Body work in assisted conception: exploring public and private settings

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Body work has been foregrounded in recent sociological writings on health and social care, particularly the emotional labour of patient care. In this article I explore the social and emotional dimensions of body work in assisted conception in private and public National Health Service (NHS) clinics. Drawing on an ethnographic study, I explore how tensions around bodily attributes, treatment costs, clinic performance and the extent of consumer sovereignty were managed in decisions about who to treat and in what manner. In NHS settings, body work involved efforts to standardise and constrain bodies in line with an ethics of justice that included the co-construction of protocols and performance measurement and a strong emphasis upon teamwork and influencing the behaviour of the sector as a whole. In contrast, body work in private settings was more overtly organised around an ethos of individual consumption that emphasised bespoke treatment together with an active critique of the regulator, based on a strong entrepreneurial ethos. Emotional labour in private settings was also more overt. I conclude by exploring the implications of my analysis for the study of assisted conception, the sociology of body work and the further marketisation and deregulation of medicine.

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